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INTERVIEW: Emma Viskic

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

 

Today I welcome Emma Viskic, author of And Fire Came Down, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
My tendency to daydream was mentioned frequently in my primary school report cards, and I haven’t grown out of it since then. I’m particularly prone to daydreaming when I’m doing mundane things like cooking, so I’ve bought myself an electric kettle, coffee maker and rice cooker to try and make things a little safer. Unfortunately I still manage to burn tea towels on a regular basis.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been writing since I could read, but never really imaged I could be a writer when I was a child. Writers lived in places like Britain or America and always seemed to be men. It wasn’t until I turned thirty that I began writing with a view to possibly getting published. I wrote two never-to-be-published full length manuscripts before I wrote Resurrection Bay.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I grew up on the fringes of Melbourne with my brother, sister and parents. It was a pretty free-range childhood, without much money, but with plenty to do. I went to the local schools, then went on to study classical clarinet at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne and the Rotterdam Conservatorium in The Netherlands. These days I live in inner Melbourne with my family, dog and chickens. I spend a bit of my down time bushwalking and bike riding, and a lot of it reading.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
And Fire Came Down deals with the aftermath of trauma, and a lot of its inspiration came from scar trees. There are still quite a few scar trees in Victoria, the scars on their trunks showing where Indigenous people removed bark to create canoes and vessels. I’ve been drawn to them ever since my father-in-law, a Gunditjmara elder, showed me one over twenty years ago. The idea of the bark growing inwards to protect, but not erase, the wound is one that resonated strongly with me, as it was a difficult time in my life. When it came to writing And Fire Came Down, it felt natural to use a scar tree as a metaphor for pain and healing.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I never pre-plan, but spend a lot of time plotting as I go. I tend to begin with a few significant scenes in mind, which act like sign posts. I know I have to get to those scenes, I’m just not sure how. This way of plotting involves a lot of rewriting, but all my efforts to pre-plot have failed miserably.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
No, but 3 am does bring me a lot of plot ideas. They usually turn out to be terrible ones in the bright light of day, but occasionally they’re exactly what I need. I always keep a pen and paper under my pillow in case inspiration really does strike.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Nothing serendipitous, but I discovered a lot about myself! I’m always surprised at how much my subconscious runs the writing process. Every time I read over a finished piece I realise that it’s been working away in the background, pushing me in directions I wasn’t aware of at the time.

Where do you write, and when?

I work part-time and have a family so every day has its own pattern. I sublease a writing studio a few days a week, otherwise I write on the living room couch, with my dog, Otto, by my feet. If I need to escape my family, I go into the bedroom. I usually start writing around 8. I do my best work before lunch, so the morning hours are precious. After lunch my brain powers down, so I write in short busts to try and keep focused. I used to write late into the night but I struggle with insomnia so I’ve got a computer off at 9:30 rule now. Except when I’m on a tight deadline. Or on a real roll. Or have one more idea...

What is your favourite part of writing?
I love writing dialogue and the actual work of crafting sentences. There’s also a special moment in every manuscript when I’m able to slip into my character’s minds. It’s wonderful when I manage to get lost in their world, even when it’s not a great place for them.

What do you do when you get blocked?

Moving is pretty much the only way for me to shake ideas loose. I’ll go for a walk or a run, or even do housework if I’m really desperate. The worst thing I can do is sit in front of the computer. As a classical musician, I find it hard not to keep trying to push through, but I’ve learnt that time away from the computer is an important part of the process.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I read and go to plays and exhibitions, watch TV and eavesdrop shamelessly. Public transport is one of the best places to get inspiration for a character or story. I never listen to music when I’m on the train – there are too many great conversations to overhear.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Coffee before, coffee during, coffee after.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Oh this is a hard question. I can’t do an exclusive top ten, but a few of my favourites are Elizabeth Strout, Vikram Seth, Peter Temple, Kate Atkinson, Raymond Chandler, Kazuo Ishiguro, John le Carré, Annie Proulx, Don Delillo and Hilary Mantel.

What do you consider to be good writing?

There are so many different aspects to good writing. It can be poetic sentences, or a story that makes me think, writing that draws me into a character’s head, or dialogue so real I can ‘hear’ it.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

Nothing you read or write is ever wasted. It’s like practising scales: every word you write and every word you read makes you a better writer.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the third novel in the Caleb Zelic series, Darkness For Light. It will be out in 2019.

You can read my review of And Fire Came Down here.

BOOK REVIEW: And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

 

The Blurn (From Goodreads):

Deaf since early childhood, Caleb Zelic is used to meeting life head-on. Now, he’s struggling just to get through the day. His best mate is dead, his ex-wife, Kat, is avoiding him, and nightmares haunt his waking hours.

But when a young woman is killed, after pleading for his help in sign language, Caleb is determined to find out who she was. The trail leads Caleb back to his hometown, Resurrection Bay. The town is on bushfire alert, and simmering with racial tensions. As Caleb delves deeper, he uncovers secrets that could ruin any chance of reuniting with Kat, and even threaten his life. Driven by his own demons, he pushes on. But who is he willing to sacrifice along the way?


My Thoughts:

A contemporary crime novel set in Australia, and featuring a hearing-impaired private investigator, And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic is bold, fresh, original, and achingly real.

I bought her book after putting out a call on Facebook for some great crime recommendations. Emma Viksic’s name was mentioned several times and so, seeing this novel while browsing in a bookstore, I grabbed it.

It’s the second in a series, with the first book Resurrection Bay winning a swathe of awards including the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction. I do wish I’d bought Book 1 first, as there are inevitable references to what happened previously, and some of the characters are introduced only briefly, the reader obviously meant to recognise them from earlier encounters.

Nonetheless, I was hooked in from the very first page, in which a mysterious young woman asks the hero Caleb for help in sign language … and then dies. Written in taut, pared-back language, with moments of dark wit and humour and high-octane action, And Fire Came Down is a compulsive page-turner.

The setting is vivid and memorable too – a small Australian country town baking in the summer heat with drug-fuelled violence and racial tensions simmering just below the surface. I could feel the sweat sliding down Caleb’s back and smell the dangerous hint of bushfire smoke in the scorchingly hot air. Just brilliant.

You might also be interested in my review of another great Australian crime novel, The Dry by Jane Harper.

I was lucky enough to interview Emma Viskic for the blog this week, you can read it here.


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